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YCIDA taps into York College expertise during Yorktowne Hotel revitalization

The York County Industrial Development Authority is partnering with York College and three Hospitality Management majors on the project.

As the Yorktowne Hotel prepares for its mid-2019 renaissance, several York College of Pennsylvania students are getting an insider’s look at what it takes to renovate and reopen the York City landmark.

This is no usual internship for the three students majoring in Hospitality Management who began the project in January. Rather than working at an established business, they are sitting in on twice-monthly meetings of the decision makers – architects, builders, and management professionals – who are bringing about the hotel’s return as a centerpiece of downtown York’s revival.

The elegant 11-story hotel, which opened in 1925, closed in 2016 after being purchased by the York County Industrial Development Authority. After its renovation, it will reopen as a full-service hotel with extended-stay rooms. GF Management, which owns and operates hotels and resorts across the country, will manage the Yorktowne.

The fact that college students have a role in revitalizing a site of such significance in York is unique, says Dr. John Hughes, chairman of the Department of Hospitality, Recreation and Sport Management at York College.

Going beyond the classroom

“The Yorktowne Hotel was built by the community,” Dr. Hughes points out. “People had the opportunity to invest as little as a dollar” toward its construction.

“People had equity in the hotel. We find ourselves in same situation,” he says.

At the suggestion of Jack Kay, chairman of the Industrial Development Authority, York College students are observing how the team of professionals plans and implements the renovation of the hotel. The independent study employs the concept of project-based learning.

“At York College, we’re very interested in this type of learning,” Dr. Hughes explains. “It’s something you can’t do with a textbook.”

Real-world problems

At the sessions with the renovation experts, the students listen in as the professionals chart their course and address issues that arise. That experience provides the students with the tools they will need to work as a team on an actual project that Kay and the group will select for them.

“This is not just an academic project,” Kay says of the assignment the students will undertake. “It will address problems we need to solve.”

The students are assigned a mentor from the group of experts. They keep journals based on the meetings, and they present their findings to the mentor and Dr. Hughes on a regular basis. They write papers outlining what they’ve learned at the renovation board sessions.

The challenges the students encounter in each phase of the project are more diverse and less predictable than those they would face as interns at an established business. As issues arise, they must adjust and adapt, just as the renovation professionals do.

For the assigned project that they tackle as a team, the students will write a final paper and present their solution to the Industrial Development Authority board.

Broadening the scope

While Hospitality Management students are spearheading the project, the evolving nature of renovating a historic hotel means that students from other departments soon will come onboard. Students majoring in Communications, History, Engineering, Finance, the Arts and Music, and even Political Science – reflecting the government’s role in redevelopment projects – could be part of the effort.

This is the Industrial Development Authority’s first such venture with York College, but Kay says the agency is looking for additional opportunities. He calls the College “a great resource in the community” with expertise in many areas where the authority has an interest.

“We see it as a partnership and hope to continue it,” he says.

Dr. Hughes says the renovation of the Yorktowne Hotel is an example of the type of project-based learning ventures that the College wants to pursue.

“This project brings the college and community closer,” he says. “It is a win-win for everyone.”

Related: York College Hospitality students have role in revitalizing Yorktowne Hotel